Sunday, August 16, 2015

Nine Years

Nine years.

It's a measurable amount of time: Nine years. 3,287 days. 78,888 hours. When I think about it that way, it seems like a lifetime, not just nearly a third of one.

But there are days where nine years ago feels like yesterday. I can remember things so clearly from nine years ago. It doesn't seem like nearly a decade has passed. And a lot of momentous events occurred during that time period: I interned in London and backpacked through eight European countries. I graduated college. I moved to North Carolina, albeit for a brief stint. I moved to New York and got my first "grown-up" job, one that wasn't my dream job at first but certainly evolved into it. I met Mike and have known him for two-thirds of those nine years. We got married. We had a baby . . . who's now almost two (what?!)! We moved from New York City to Buffalo (a possible year-anniversary blog post coming up about that). We had the opportunity to travel to three countries (four, if you include Canada, but that just seems silly). But it's that last part that has really highlighted what can truly change in nine years.

Two weeks ago we were at my grandfather's childhood home in Spain. My grandfather was born in a small town, called Huércal-Overa, near the southeastern coast, and he lived there until he was ten years old, when he, his brother, and my great-grandmother were finally able (on their third attempt) to escape Franco and the Spanish Civil War to come to America, where my great-grandfather was already living and working to build up for their new life. My grandfather started returning to the house in 1980, and it became my grandparents' tradition to travel to Spain every summer so they could be there for the town's annual festival for the patron saint—held during the last weekend of July. In fact, that's where my grandparents were in 1984 when they found out that their first grandchild had decided to come six weeks early. They cut their trip short and flew back home to meet me. A year later, I spent my first birthday in Spain at my grandfather's childhood home . . . and thus a new tradition started: my grandparents having their grandchildren with them in Spain whenever possible.

With my grandfather in Spain.

Riding a donkey with my dad in front of
my grandfather's house.

Fifteen years passed before I had the opportunity to go to Spain again. The summer before my junior year of high school, my parents and grandparents took my sister and me to Italy for two weeks, followed by two weeks in Spain at my grandfather's house. I've always felt so fortunate to have taken a trip like that with my family, especially at that age . . . and it felt even more special to spend my sixteenth birthday in Spain. (Unfortunately, I do not have pictures on my phone, and the physical copies are at my parents', so I can't post any here. My sister and I are actually OK with that: 2000 wasn't our most glamorous year . . . though we were definitely much skinnier back then.)

I didn't know if I would make it back to Spain again. My sister went with our cousin Stephanie five years later, after Nicole graduated high school. And some of my other cousins continued to visit during that time. But once I entered college, summers were filled with organizational commitments and summer jobs.

And then I got my chance. In 2005 my roommate applied for a program that placed her with an internship in London. I thought it sounded amazing, so in 2006, I applied for the program. I was ecstatic when I was accepted, and even more proud of myself that the summer jobs I had worked, and the job I had senior year at the visitors' center, would pay for the program in full. It felt like such an achievement. Up until two weeks before departure, I still hadn't been placed in an internship, and I worried I wouldn't get to go. But through an Aggie connection I was placed at a PR firm in London and everything fell into place: I would work the internship for six weeks, backpack through Europe with my best friend for three weeks, and then fly to Spain to spend the last three weeks of the summer with my grandparents. 

That summer was amazing: one of the greatest things I have ever done. But those last three weeks? Those were something really special.

For three weeks it was just me, Bobo, and Mimi. We ate chorizo and eggs in the morning, went to the beach, picked up a rotisserie chicken for lunch, took a siesta, then ate tapas for dinner. We met up with family (my grandfather jokes that if you don't know someone's name in Overa, just call him or her primo or prima—he or she is most likely a cousin). We took a mini road trip to Sevilla, Córdoba, and Ronda. My grandfather had everything planned: he had the maps and knew our routes; he booked rooms at paradors (former castles/palaces that have been turned into hotels); he and I walked around and explored the sites while my grandmother sat on a bench and read her a book (probably a Danielle Steel). And with the exception of a very minor car accident, it was an incredible three weeks learning more about my grandparents and exploring new cities with my grandfather.

One of my favorite photos of me and my grandfather.
This is at El Torcal, and Bobo was climbing up and down
these huge rock features for the perfect video (he's
never been a still-photo person). (Don't mind the 

red mark, it's a seat burn from the accident.)

Me with Mimi and Bobo in front of Villa Parra in 2006. 
On our most recent trip, there was a moment in a shop where it 
really hit me that Mimi wasn't with us. The shop owner 
remembered my grandmother fondly, even though it had 
been years since she'd visited, and I had to walk out
because I was feeling a lot of different emotions.

After graduation, when I wanted to get into publishing in New York City, I ended up moving in with Mimi and Bobo. I house-sat while they took one of their final trips to Spain together. By 2009, it became too difficult for Mimi and Bobo to travel to Spain on their own, especially with Mimi's ongoing health issues. I told my mother then that if there were ever a trip back to the house with Bobo, I wanted to be there. I wanted it for me, and I wanted it for Mike, so he would be able to see one of the places I consider my happy place.

It's been a rocky year for Bobo: Mimi passed in February; he had brain surgery in March. And it became apparent that his short-term memory wasn't what it used to be. A trip to Spain seemed to always be an option as long as Bobo's health kept up, but it was more of a hope, not necessarily a likely possibility . . . until all of a sudden it was.

In a very quick decision, and with travel insurance purchased, we decided we were going to buy tickets to join Mom, Dad, Aunt Carol, and Bobo in Spain. Fast-forward eight weeks, and we were there.

We spent the first couple of days at the house, since those were the days of the festival (though, sadly, my favorite part of the fiesta—the paella for the whole town—wasn't held over the weekend because the chef was too tired from the partying). And during those first few days, I started to realize how badly, and how quickly, my grandfather's dementia had really set in. The same question was asked multiple times a day, he never used our names, and he had no recollection that I had been to the house before. We kind of all thought that with his short-term memory shot, Spain would do him some good: he'd see his childhood home and his town, relatively unchanged over the years; he'd see his cousin Rosa, a sharp eighty-three-year-old woman who remembers their family history with ease; and he'd see other friends and family who make their way back to the town each summer. When he would talk in Spanish, he would become animated . . . the problem was getting him to talk—period. English or Spanish, he didn't say much, which is such a change from his personality. R was the only thing that consistently perked him up. He would ask often "Where's the baby?" and he would engage with her whenever she was in the room. 

On Tuesday, my thirty-first birthday, I woke up in the house, had chorizo and eggs, and we got in the car to take a road trip very similar to the one I took nine years ago with my grandparents; we wanted Mike to see a little bit more of Spain on his first European trip. In Sevilla Bobo was able to walk to the Plaza de España and to dinner, but it was a lot of walking for him. So the next day he stayed at the hotel with my aunt and parents, who offered to keep R with them so Mike and I could sightsee.

R and Bobo at the Plaza de España.

Me and Bobo at the Plaza de España.

Mike and I went to the cathedral and walked up the thirty-five ramps to the top of the Giralda . . . something that my grandfather was able to do just nine years ago, and something he seems to have no recollection of doing now. On my walk up those ramps, I thought a lot about the last nine years. How is it possible that my grandfather has changed so much?

Because it's been nine years. It's not a short period of time. And even though this decline seems to have come on quickly, and parts of it have, this change has been something in the works for years. I just wasn't with him every single one of those 3,287 days to see it.

Something like this—watching a loved one lose his or her identity, memory, vitality—makes one think a lot. I don't have much to say about this process beyond how sad it is. I've spent a good amount of time thinking about the past nine years. I spend a lot of time thinking about the nine years to come. What will those 3,287 days bring? What about the years after that? It's pretty heavy to think about (and just so you know I'm not being super depressing, when I wrote heavy I thought about putting the Back to the Future quote in there).

Generally I feel like my blog posts are pretty tied up: I usually know how I'm going to get from point A to point B from the start, and I know what the last line will be. Not with this one. I knew I wanted to title this post "Nine Years." I knew I wanted to write how different my last two trips to Spain were. But other than that, I didn't know; I had no direction. I feel like this blog post is a bit all over the place (not in the chronological storytelling, just in the "what am I attempting to say?" sense. I'm sitting here trying to collect my thoughts . . . and wondering if that's how my grandfather feels all the time. Don't get me wrong, there are moments when the Bobo we know and love flashes through, but he's definitely not the man he was a year ago, and especially not the man he was nine years ago. 

Graffiti art in Ronda in 2006,
back when Bobo was a ham and pretending to
be abandoned. (I wish I had realized I was
cutting off some of the writing!)

Overall, as sad as it was to see my grandfather like this, I feel fortunate to have experienced one more trip to Spain with him. I'm glad I got to see R put a smile on his face during that week.

We made memories to last the next nine years . . . and then some.

(That line just came to me! Phew, I found a way to "tie up" a story that's not yet over.)

Bobo: the great grandfather and
the awesome great-grandfather.

Four generations.

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